BRIDGEWATER - From learning how to ride the commuter rail to how to manage a paycheck, students from Norton High School's Specialized Team for Educational Progress program are gaining important life skills, thanks to programs at Bridgewater State University.

The Norton program, known as STEP, serves students with intellectual disabilities who are involved with three programs at Bridgewater, STEP program teacher Ashley Rodrigues said.

While all of the programs are geared toward students with intellectual disabilities, the Transitions at Bridgewater and Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment programs are both designed for high school students between the ages of 18 and 22 who have been unable to pass the MCAS tests, Rodrigues said.

Transitions at Bridgewater offers students weekly workshops covering topics such as money management, social skills, campus and social media safety and interview skills.

The Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment program gives students an opportunity to audit a course and experience college life, including spending time with college students.

The Self Advocacy Leadership Series provides students between the ages of 14 and 22 a chance to hold interactive discussions on leadership, team building, rules and laws and how to advocate for themselves.

Being on the campus has been a beneficial experience for the students, Rodrigues said.

"Often students with disabilities don't have that college experience and are often left out when peers go," Rodrigues said. "Taking courses on transitions helps them understand that college is attainable."

Besides interacting with college students and getting a feel for what a campus is like, Rodrigues said the material the programs cover is essential.

"The subject matter is so important. They need to have a transition plan on how to live independently," she said.

Andrew Coleman, 17, a sophomore at Norton High School, took part in the leadership series, which finished with a recent graduation ceremony.

"I did like the groups. I made a lot of friends and learned to dress nice for an interview," he said.

Coleman called being on campus "awesome," and said he's hoping to participate in the other programs offered at Bridgewater.

"It shows me that I'm capable to be here," he said.

Matthew Cobb, 16, a junior, said he liked the role-playing the group did, especially when they acted out the roles of representatives, senators and the president when learning about laws and rules.

Cobb's mother, Laurie Inferrera, 35, said her son has benefited incredibly from the program.

"It's an amazing program. He loved it," she said. "It's good for him to be in this environment."

Lisa Battaglino, the dean of the College of Education and Allied Studies at Bridgewater, said having the local high school kids on campus gives Bridgewater students who don't have disabilities an opportunity to interact with the kids that do, an essential life skill.

"It's just as beneficial to the greater number of students that don't have disabilities," she said.

PAIGE ALLEN can be reached at 508-236-0336, at pallen@thesunchronicle.com and on Twitter @SCNortonMa.

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